In contrast to yesterday’s post, the 2006 New Attitude conference was very good. Especially beneficial has been the breakout sessions. Dave Harvey’s session on The Summons was very good. I found this poem he recited about an hour into the talk to be very… moving.

When God wants to drill a man
And thrill a man
And skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses
And with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendour out —
God knows what He’s about!

Author Unknown

I contacted his church and was told that the poem came from the book, Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders, p. 184

Opening Thoughts, Marred by Verse

This poem isn’t really finished, but it’s at least round the first bend, and since somehow I’ve already managed to post it once by accident, I’ll let you read what’s there while I work on the rest.

I have been reading Dante, so
Forgive me, if you may,
The way that I am strewing all
These iams on the page.

The mind adapts itself unto
The pattern that it’s fed
And replicates it endlessly
While pulling on its thread –
Unraveling, re-raveling
With endless permutation,
A master-house that has the goal
Of its own renovation.

Who has seen a created thing
That’s made quite like the mind?
Do fish, or birds, or arthropods,
Or beasts that feed on grass
Create themselves the path they follow
And set their lives to plans?
But such is man who’s made like God
The created who creates.
He picks a star and sets his course,
And rides in his own wake.

Yet, unlike God, who gets to choose,
Man also cannot choose.
The mirror shines, and so must he,
Reflecting what he sees.
He halts a bit, and modifies,
Changes meter, or the rhyme,
Opens up his aperture,
Adjusts his shutter speed.

But he cannot cease to worship.
He cannot cease to feed
On wisdom, honor, truth and beauty.
The numinous, the seed
Of glory ever lives inside him
and grows there like a weed.
It forces him to seek the holy
With a holy sort of greed.

And Lord, here is your gardener,
Standing in the field:
He has his seed; he has the soil,
He has a hoe to wield.
He has his purpose, and his duty,
And has the call to choose.
But still he cannot force himself
To ever choose the good.

And like a telescope deciding
Stars are without worth –
It twists itself to look for something,
Unhinging from it’s posts,
Then sways and tips, and holding… falls,
Its lens now mired in earth,
Its vision-shaft now soundly bent,
And lost to starry hosts.
Yet something still is working there,
Receiving what it sees,
Passing up exhumous visions,
Displaying rotten leaves.

So the human constitution,
Though broken by its fall,
Cannot help but seek its purpose,
Shaping self and all
The cosmos to the god it’s fashioned,
Cycling god and self
And cosmos, thralled with choosing, still
Desiring something else.

Exhortation

This fallen world affects all creatures,
Saint and sinner, with the bread
Of hard affliction—mournful soul-ache,
Unjust judgment, creeping dread.

But the God of all creation
Has engineered a hidden path
Wherein the sweetest, purest pleasures
In affliction may be had.

The wise are found in those dark mine shafts
Sifting ore from worthless slag,
While the torrents of life’s hardships
Fall like oil upon their heads.

And the key into this pathway
Where God’s favorites know to hide
Is the simple abjuration
Of any form of human pride. Continue reading “Exhortation”

Quality Tech Writing

I’ve been thinking off and on about moving our site from WordPress to Drupal, which has some more advanced capabilities and would allow me to integrate a few more things on the site. I discovered this morning that, among its other features, Drupal possesses an incredible tech writer. Observe:

Drupal is a Content Management Framework. This is somewhat different from a Content Management System (or CMS) in that it is by nature geared more towards configurability and customization. Picture a range of measurement where the one end of the scale is labeled “specific” and the other end “abstract”. On the “specific” end of the spectrum, you would have something whose form is very specialized because it’s meant for a specific purpose – like, say, a hammer. On the other end of the spectrum, you would have something much more abstracted, that is available to be configured any way you like, for a variety of purposes – like some wood and a chunk of steel. You could make a hammer, or any number of other things with the wood and steel.

Of course, while chunks of wood and steel are more “configurable” than a hammer, they aren’t terribly useful because few people have the specialized knowledge to work with such raw materials. Drupal’s purpose is to sit in the sweet spot between the two ends of the scale, and create a sort of “builder’s kit” made up of pre-designed components that can be used as-is or be extensively reconfigured to suit your needs.

It keeps going on, building metaphor on metaphor like a John Donne love poem. Who knew programmers had such literary talent?

A Pleasure

One of the most powerful college experiences I ever had happened while I was alone in my room, doing homework. I had just come out of a class on poetry in which the basic rules for the sonnet were introduced, and we were told to try our hands at it. As I was packing up my things, I wrote down a single line of pentameter:

She stood and broke her alabaster box

I had some thought of rhyming “box” with “fox,” and I went back to my room to play around with it. Five hours later, I had finished Memorandum.

I’ve always been pleased with that poem, but the effect on me of writing was profound far beyond the pleasure of a nice bit of verse. The sensation of executing something flawlessly after hours of profound mental exertion was cataclysmic on my psyche. (Rather unlike the previous sentence.) I really don’t know how to explain the rush I got.

The only other times I have experienced a similar sensation have been times of intense prayer, when the very heavens have been opened, or during powerful worship services where God clearly and profoundly made his glory known. And here I had gotten nearly the same sensation from writing a poem. It made me think this was exactly the sort of thing that the character Eric Liddell talked about in Chariots of Fire. “When I run I feel His pleasure.” It is the certain pleasure that comes from functioning in accordance with the nature God has given you.

Judge then, my increasing dismay, as over the next two years I slowly realized how infinitesimal were my chances of successfully embarking on a career as poet. Judge my consternation as I have come to terms with how difficult it is to establish a career as a writer of anything. Judge my surprise at my experiences of the last few weeks: Continue reading “A Pleasure”

In which I tell you everything

Latina mortua lingua est,
Ut mortua potest esse:
Necavit omnes Romanos,
Atque necat me!
(Latin is a dead language,
Dead as it can be:
It killed off all the Romans,
And now it’s killing me!)

The rumors of my death, unfortunately, have not been so greatly exaggerated as one could have wished. As you may recall, I was offered a job about a year ago to teach Latin at a classical school in Concord, North Carolina. This was very odd because, well, several reasons:

  • Though I love teaching, I had never taught in a classroom setting, nor had I been trained in any way to do so.
  • Though I had decided I wanted to try teaching, Latin was the furthest thing from my mind. I had applied to teach English.
  • Of all the positions to offer me, Latin was the least likely. I like languages, but I had never studied any with the diligence that produces proficiency. In other words, I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Nevertheless, the school and I endeavored upon a noble experiment, based in necessity: I needed a job, and I was interested in teaching. They needed a Latin teacher, and they were willing to try me, apparently because I sounded pretty good on paper.

About a month ago, I learned with the finality that the experiment was to be considered a failure. Contracts at our school are offered on an annual basis with no guarantee as to future years. I was not to be offered a new one. Continue reading “In which I tell you everything”

Thoughts on the writing of “modern” poetry

Dan Phillips recently started an accidental firestorm when he took it upon himself to criticize modern poetry. In particular, he criticized the poetry recommended by Karsten Piper. I protest that I was not at the center of the storm – I said to myself, “I will not say anything,” but at last the words burned in my heart and I opened my mouth:

Piper made the assertion that “the most important question is, how did you respond to the poem when you read it? Did you feel anything that you weren’t already feeling today? Did you think anything that you hadn’t already thought about this afternoon?” I protested that these are not the most important questions, and that, in fact they are bad questions. I offered instead that you should start with more basic questions, such as “what does this poem actually say?” and “does it say it well?” I was told that these kinds of questions are pedagogically troublesome, because they leave no connection between the reader and the poem. They are “well-suited to argument” but “don’t treat poetry as poetry.” And that’s the point where I really had to say something, and since I have a rule that any writing which takes up a substantial amount of my free time by rights ought also to appear on the blog, you have the argument that lays before you. (Below the fold.) Continue reading “Thoughts on the writing of “modern” poetry”